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  • The Ignoble Savage:Racism, Myth, and the Anthropological Machine
  • Alberto Toscano (bio)

You civilized peoples, who are for ever speaking foolishly about Savages and Barbarians—soon, as d'Aurevilly says, you will have become too worthless even to be idolaters.

—Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals

The marks and mediations of political turmoil in the writings of Furio Jesi are at once patent and anything but mechanical. In 1968, interpellated by the May events, he registered the rift with his erstwhile mentor in the study of mythology, the Hungarian scholar Karl Kerényi, in words of reverberant intensity:

If fate dictates that I should be forced to address these words to the person whom I've considered my teacher ever since adolescence, it means the times are particularly dark. I doubt, what's more, that they'll brighten before first becoming even darker—before, that is, reaching the extreme point of crisis. This crisis will probably unfold in the streets and be fought with weapons; a crisis in which even a teacher and a disciple, a father and a son, will concretely find themselves to be enemies, in opposite camps.1

And yet the eventually unfinished project which these words foreshadowed, Spartakus, though it channelled that intensity into one of the most singular reflections we possess on myth, time and revolt, eschewed familiar registers of political address and position-taking. Instead, it elucidated the symbolic impasses and undercurrents of contemporary tumults through a meticulous immersion into the nexus of myth and literature around 1919.2 This practice of detour and détournement, or repetition and recovery, is perhaps even more evident in Jesi's abiding attention, throughout the 1970s, to that forbidding complex of attitudes and mentalities he provisionally defined under the heading of "the culture of the right." In a moment like our own—in which a transnational mutation of that culture is bullishly pervasive, and when the Italian Minister of the Interior, the leader of a party that effectively "technicized" the grotesque myth of a northern Italian ethnos ("Padania"), can be heard urging the denaturalization of Italian Romani—it is worth dwelling with this dimension of Jesi's intellectual [End Page 1105] production. Jesi's enquiries into the right's political mythologies can be taken as a response not so much to May 1968 but—to cite a particularly transformative date in Italian political history—12 December 1969, the day of the bombing of the National Bank of Agriculture in Milan's Piazza Fontana3 and the inauguration of the "strategy of tension" that saw the Italian deep state find common cause with (or insistently manipulate) a galaxy of far right and neo-fascist movements whose progeny are still holding confidently forth, for instance in that particularly effective collective political entrepreneur that is the Casa Pound movement.4 One could suggest here that the passage from the Kerényian juxtaposition between genuine and technicized myth which governs Jesi's mythological critique of the 1960s5 to the thematic of the mythological machine that will occupy him until his premature death in 19806 should at least in part be referred back, not just to a far-reaching critique of the far left's relation to myth, but to the enduring force of myth in the thinking of reaction. This force goes beyond "technicization" and gives us a powerful insight into some of the deeper determinants of Western political rationality as a whole—whence also the unsettling reversibility of political myth from left to right. As Jesi declared in an interview to the weekly L'Espresso shortly before his death, the culture of the right is

the culture within which the past is a kind of homogenized pap that can be modelled and formed as one sees fit. The culture in which there prevails a religion of death or even a religion of exemplary deaths. The culture in which it is declared that there exist values beyond debate, signalled by capitalised words, especially Tradition and Culture, but also Justice, Freedom, Revolution. In brief, a culture made up of mythological authority and certainty about the norms of knowing, teaching, commanding and objecting. The greatest part of our cultural patrimony—including of those...


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